Making impact at the largest wildlife trade conference on earth, CITES CoP17

I’m here in Johannesburg, South Africa leading the delegation from  the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES

That is quite a mouthful, but I wanted you to see each word that makes up the CITES acronym. 

A convention is an agreement, and the parties are all the countries that have signed on to that agreement.

CITES has a complex remit. The 183 countries that are party to this convention gather every few years to discuss the state of myriad animals and plants endangered by international trade and decide specific resolutions to allow or prohibit trade. That meeting is called the Convention of the Parties or CoP. This is the 17th CoP—or meeting of the parties.

John Scanlon, Secretary General of the CITES Convention told me that this meeting will be the largest on record with well over three thousand people attending.  There are more proposals put forward than in any other meeting of the Parties.  While there is great agreement among the Parties on many proposals to protect animals and secure conservation efforts, there will also be many contentious issues.

The author outside the  Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg under the IFAW banners.

What does a CITES decision really mean? 

Why I am I breaking it down this way?  It’s because I want everyone to truly understand that a “CITES Decision” is actually 183 countries voting to take that decision.

I point this voting mechanism because it may seem to some as though there is some faceless body named CITES making decisions about wildlife around the world.  I know that many people feel that way because many people write to me and ask me to tell the CITES Secretary General, John Scanlon, to stop trading ivory or to tell the CITES Secretariat that they are not doing enough to protect animals. 

You are missing an opportunity to influence what happens at CITES if you focus your attention anywhere but your country and the CITES Management authority in your country. 

Neither the CITES Secretary General nor the CITES Secretariat is a Party to the Convention which means that they do not vote.  John Scanlon has been very transparent about that and I applaud him for it.

If you want to truly be an advocate for conservation and animal welfare you need to influence the officials in your country that develop, and vote on, proposals.

As an advocacy organization IFAW doesn’t simply show up and try to influence what happens at CITES. We are working between the COP to discuss proposals with country representatives so that there can be reasonable and rationale discussions about conservation strategies. 

As an advocate, you too can be reaching out to your representatives across the globe to let them know that you believe the public should have input into the positions countries take at CITES.  If you want to make a difference at the CITES COP that is what you should start, or continue, to do.

My message to you? 

I need you and I want you to become an influential member of the IFAW Network.  When it comes to stopping illegal trade. It takes a network to stop a network of criminals. Are you in?

If you want to learn more about CITES, you can read our briefing sheets of key issues, and please check out these preview social posts:


Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime